Saturday, May 28, 2016



I want to introduce you to another wonderful book by Jim Keyser and George Poetschat, Seeking Bear: The Petroglyphs of Lucerne Valley, Wyoming, 236 pages. Published in 2015 by the Oregon Archaeological Society Press, Portland, with well over 100 illustrations and tables it is another in their series of in-depth studies of rock art of the northern Great Plains and Basin. The Lucerne Valley, Wyoming, is an area in southwest Wyoming that has not been studied extensively in the past, so this volume greatly expands knowledge of rock art of that part of Wyoming and the adjacent areas of Colorado and Utah.

Title page.

Among these contributions to rock art knowledge are documenting the presence of rock art styles in the Lucerne Valley which are known from other areas, expanding the knowledge (at least my personal knowledge) of them and enlarging the region that they are pertinent to.  The first of these is the Classic Vernal Style of Fremont rock art which is found so magnificently around Vernal, Utah, and the Dinosaur National Monument. I had not known of any examples of that style of petroglyph farther north than Brown's Park, Colorado (although it is close enough to be expected). Also images in the Lucerne Valley were documented that the authors attribute to the Uncompaghre Style of rock art, named for examples around the Uncompaghre Plateau, south of Grand Junction, Colorado.  Also the authors explain one image in terms of the meaning of elements of the Dinwoody Style of petroglyph found in the Wind River Valley farther north in Wyoming. These examples of relating images to styles from other locations illustrates that the people of the Lucerne Valley were tied in to the cultures of their larger world, whereas we have tended to overlook that area as an isolated border region between other populations (once again affirming that it is dangerous to use our modern assumptions in evaluating past cultures).

In analyzing the images illustrated in the rock art panels, Keyser once again illustrates his amazing ability to see fine detail and to recognize elements overlooked by other people. This book provides many succinct demonstrations of how much can be learned by really detailed examinations of rock art. One example is a listing of six animals at one site and noting the position of the tail of each animal. Elsewhere the shapes of antlers on cervids are also compared.

One of the high points to me in reading this book is the authors' ability to explain many of the concepts that we often feel strongly about but have not reasoned through. On page 148, a discussion of rock art symbols and their meanings provides a masterful summation of many of the various popular and New Age explanations of rock art that frustrate so many real students of the subject. Also, on page 186, their detailed presentation on the perennial idea that rock art represents "hunting magic" could be used in any college anthropology class on the subject. 
Five stars for excellence.

All-in-all, Seeking Bear, is a highly detailed, relentlessly educational presentation of the rock art from a little known area which ties it inexorably into the larger whole world around it. My only (and I emphasize only) criticism of this wonderful volume is its lack of an index. For someone like me, who enjoys pursuing a train of thought, idea, or insight, through a volume by referring to the index this was a frustrating absence. I actually had to read it through from beginning to end, and perhaps this was their intention all along. Watch out -you just might learn something. Once again, my gratitude to Jim Keyser and George Poetschat for this contribution to rock art studies and literature. Thank you.

Keyser, James D. and George Poetschat,
2015    Seeking Bear: The Petroglyphs of Lucerne Valley, Wyoming, Oregon Archaeological Society Press, Portland.

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